The Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”) is stated to be ‘The official independent expert in settling complaints between consumers and businesses providing financial services.’ It is a public body that was established by Parliament and is authorised to deal with a very broad range of complaints in areas ranging from banking and insurance, to loans, credit and hire purchase and savings and investments. The standard it applies when determining complaints, is what in the opinion of the ombudsman is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances of the case ; with the ability to award ‘fair’ compensation for loss or damage. Indeed, the FOS has come to enjoy a considerable reputation due to its efficiency, independence, and impartiality when dealing with complaints, dealing with almost a million enquiries, settling over 150,000 disputes a year, and settling a third of cases within three months.
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In fact, in the latest six-monthly (between 1st January and 30th June 2010) complaints data released on individual financial businesses, the FOS received 84,212 new complaints and upheld an average of 44% of complaints in favour of consumers. The FOS has therefore demonstrated a strong complaints-handling performance with cases usually settled informally. Moreover, consumers are still free to reject a FOS decision and take their case to court instead if they so wish. Given such credentials, it might seem to be the case that consumers having complaints relating to insurance are well protected under the FOS regime. However, it is submitted that the draft Consumer Insurance (Disclosure & Representations) Bill (the “Bill”) recommended by the Law Commission (“LC”) is of significant practical benefit to consumers, and brings a great deal to the table in relation to insurance contracts. In fact, if enacted the Bill would represent a watershed in the law governing disclosure and representation in consumer insurance contracts. Inherent difficulties stem from the fact that this area of law is governed by archaic legislation in the form of the Marine Insurance Act 1906 (“MIA 1906”). The main difficulty is that the MIA 1906 stipulates that ‘A contract of marine insurance is a contract based upon the utmost good faith, and, if the utmost good faith be not observed by either party, the contract may be avoided by the other party.’ In fact, this principle of utmost good faith or ‘uberrimae fidei’ is of antiquated origin and imposes very strict disclosure requirements on the part of the assured to an insurance contract. Thus, the assured must disclose ‘every material circumstance which is known to the assured’ , with the assured being ‘deemed to know every circumstance which, in the ordinary course of business, ought to be known by him.’ Furthermore, material circumstance is expounded as including ‘Every circumstance is material which would influence the judgement of a prudent insurer in fixing the premium,
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